- - Thursday, July 27, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that one of his top priorities is to expand recreational access to public lands and waters. He should start this quest in the San Francisco Bay Area, where National Park Service staff are trying to push through a controversial rule to cut one of the most popular recreation activities in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area — dog walking.

Walking with one’s faithful four-legged companion is a family-friendly form of recreation. It gets people outside and connects them with nature. People who have dogs walk more than other people, and that produces health benefits like lower blood pressure and reduced stress.

Dogs are already banned from most national parks and wilderness areas, but the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is not a national park. We’re talking about a designated national recreation area that’s located within one of the most densely packed urban centers in the nation. Dog walking has historically been allowed on a mere 1 percent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s 80,000 acres. Now, the Park Service wants to cut that by nearly 90 percent

Communities have been fighting the Park Service’s assault on recreational dog walking for over a decade. Tens of thousands of people have submitted official public comments opposing the proposed “dog rule,” and the Boards of Supervisors of all three counties with Golden Gate National Recreation land are on record against it. Yet the Park Service doesn’t seem to care and ignores the concerns.

If the rule goes into effect, the Park Service intends to allocate $2.6 million annually in new spending to hire staff to enforce it. This at a time when the Golden Gate National Recreation Area faces an unfunded $280 million backlog of deferred maintenance.

This is not the first time the Park Service has tried to restrict or ban popular recreational activity at one of its premier properties. In 2013 in Yosemite National Park, the Park Service went after swimming pools, an ice-skating rink, and bike, horse and river raft rentals in the Yosemite Valley. In this case, the local community fought back, with support from their member of Congress, and managed to stop most of the planned restrictions on recreation before they were carried out.

Often times the reason given for these restrictions is environmental preservation. Yet if you look at a place like the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, recreation and environmental preservation have coexisted successfully since the inception of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area more than 40 years ago. Obviously it’s working for the plants and wildlife, which are thriving, as well as for the humans, who currently enjoy dog walking, horseback riding, bird watching, kite boarding, hang gliding, and more in this federal recreation area.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area dog rule was a pet project of former National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis. His administration tried to push the rule through and implement it before he retired and the new White House administration took over in January. They were only stopped when a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit showed that numerous Park Service officials — including two former Golden Gate National Recreation Area superintendents — used private email accounts to collude with special interest groups that oppose dog walking.

These emails reveal Park Service senior staff secretly helping anti-dog walking groups lobby elected officials on behalf of the Park Service position. They also show staff destroying administrative record files, demonstrating bias against dog walking supporters, and purposely omitting scientific data from the plan that formed the basis of the proposed dog rule. All of the emails and other documents are available to the public on www.woofieleaks.com.

Despite this gross agency misconduct and corruption of the administrative process, the Park Service is still quietly trying to push this unpopular and unlawful rule forward — all in the hope that their actions will go unnoticed by the new Interior Department leadership.

That’s why more than 40,000 people have petitioned Secretary Zinke to save recreational dog walking in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and rescind the restrictive dog rule.

This is not an unreasonable request given the secretary’s top priorities and the proposed rule’s exorbitant cost to taxpayers. People want to continue enjoy walking in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area with their dogs, on land where they’ve been doing just that for generations.

• David Emanuel lives in San Francisco and is co-founder of the group Save Our Recreation.

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